In most election years potential candidates have until April to launch trial balloons and perform all manner of calculations before deciding whether to throw their hats into the ring. Not this year.
Alabama Secretary of State Jim Bennett announced last week that nominations for party primaries would have to end Feb. 7 instead of April 4 as originally scheduled.
That’s particularly troublesome for people who might be considering a run for the state Legislature. This is the first election since new district lines were drawn for the state House and Senate, and some voters may not know which districts they are in. People who live near the new district lines might not be certain without looking at a detailed map. County voting officials plan to clear that up by mailing cards to every registered voter in the county, but it’s not clear when that’s going to happen.
Democrats will have a narrow window to qualify, just six days. State Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley said her party was already planning to open qualifying Feb. 1.
Republicans will have a bit longer, as qualifying for statewide offices will start Monday.
In addition to statewide offices, a number of important county elections are being held this year. In both St. Clair County and Talladega County, the sheriffs, coroners, revenue commissioners and one district judge in each county are up for election.
In Talladega County, County Commission Districts 2 and 4 will also be on the ballot and the representative for County Board of Education District 4.
In St. Clair County, the offices of commission chairman, commission District 1, county BOE superintendent and three county BOE seats are up for grabs.
The rest of the election schedule will stay the same — party primaries are June 3, runoffs are July 15 and the general election is Nov. 4. The qualifying deadline for independent and third-party candidates will remain June 3.
The change might give a slight advantage to incumbents. They are more likely to have made early decisions about whether to run than challengers, but the change shouldn’t have a huge effect on deciding who runs. Challengers should pretty much have their minds made up by now, too, and if they don’t already have money or pledges to run a campaign, it would be a bit late in the game to start making plans.
The motivation for making the change was a federal court case. Bennett’s predecessor, Beth Chapman, was sued by the Department of Justice two years ago because the state failed to send absentee ballots to military and overseas voters in a timely fashion (federal law sets the deadline at 45 days prior to an election).
Bennett tried last year to get the Legislature to change the dates, but couldn’t get the bill through. So he’s sticking his neck out, in consultation with the feds, to try to bring the state in compliance with the law.
This isn’t the first time Alabama has come under federal pressure to do what it should have already done, and it probably won’t be the last. The art of political foot-dragging — except when carrying water for special interests — is a time-honored tradition in Montgomery.
Bennett has taken a proactive approach that could well save the state the embarrassment of yet another federal court order.
And who can argue with the reason? Our men and women in the military deserve should never have to wonder whether their votes will be counted.